Without Kosovo-Serbia mutual recognition, region will remain blocked

Jeffrey Hovenier, the nominee of the President of the United States of America Joe Biden for Ambassador to Kosovo, appeared before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, October 5.

He said that if confirmed to the post, he would work in continuing the U.S. support for a sovereign and democratic Kosovo and that one of his priorities would include supporting the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia for normalization of relations which, Hovenier noted, should center on mutual recognition.
 
If his appointment is confirmed, it would be an honor for him, Jeffrey Hovenier said in his introductory speech. "The United States has played an important role, together with our European partners, in protecting the people of Kosovo and supporting them in their efforts to establish a multiethnic, democratic country. I have been fortunate to participate in these efforts in various capacities, including as a member of the UN team, and led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari who developed the 'Ahtisaari Plan' and paved the way for Kosovo's independence ".
 
As Hovenier stated, "the people of Kosovo have never forgotten the American role and constant support for the last 22 years."
 
"As a result, Kosovo is one of the most pro-American countries in the world and a close partner. Following the democratic elections in February, the new government took office with a decisive mandate, and the US-Kosovo relationship remains positive and productive," he said.
 
He said he would work "to support EU-mediated dialogue to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which, I quote President Biden, 'should be focused on mutual recognition.”
 
He said that the dialogue in Brussels has made progress in the field of customs services and the judiciary, but work still needs to be done, especially in municipal governance. "We accept that Serbia wants to support the Serb community in Kosovo, that is reasonable. But this must be done within the constitutional framework and according to the laws of Kosovo."
 
Asked by US Senator Bob Menendez how Hovenier sees Serbia's role in the dialogue process with Kosovo, as according to him Serbia does not always turn out to be a "good partner", the nominee for ambassador said he would work to normalize as much as possible the relations between the two countries.
 
"Like any other problem in the Balkans, the problem requires work from both sides. My focus will be to encourage the Kosovo authorities to engage constructively and urgently in that process, but I have to agree with you that the authorities in Serbia need the same push and I cannot disagree with your assessment that the Serbian interlocutors " have not always been in that line during the process."
 
"Normalization of relations is key to regional stability and security and will pave the way for the integration of both countries into Euro-Atlantic institutions. If I am confirmed as ambassador, I will encourage Kosovo to engage constructively, flexibly and urgently."
 
He thanked Kosovo for receiving evacueed Afghan nationals and added that he would work with Kosovo's partners to boost economic growth and improve an environment that helps address Kosovo's high unemployment rate.
 
In his presentation, he also mentioned the development of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF). He said he would support the gradual and transparent development of the KSF, saying the US could help advance Kosovo from consumers to security providers. "If elected ambassador, I will support the gradual and continuous development of the KSF into a multi-ethnic force, interacting with NATO and a force for territorial defense."
 
Jeffrey Hovenier previously served in Kosovo as part of a UN mission. In 2018, then Kosovo President Hashim Thaci decorated him on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Kosovo's independence. Hovenier is a career diplomat and currently Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey.